Last week, we revealed the contents of numerous “Knowledge Reports” — spying dispatches — that Scientologists submitted about Leah Remini, and which form the basis for some of the most important parts of her new book coming out tomorrow, Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology. We were careful, at that time, just to stick to the parts of the book that were related to what was in the KRs, which we had obtained some time ago.
Now, with just a day to go before publication, we’re going to talk a little more about just some of the things we found to be important in the rest of this landmark book.
Introduction. When we sat down to read Leah’s book several weeks ago, we really wondered about her subtitle: “Surviving Hollywood and Scientology.” We figured she must have a lot of stories to tell about becoming a television actress and then landing her huge success with nine years as Carrie Heffernan on The King of Queens. There was her firing from The Talk to dig into, and her great comeback in the last two years with her reality show, It’s All Relative. With so much Hollywood to discuss, would Scientology be an afterthought?
So it was with some surprise and awe that we read her preface, and we were really knocked out by it. It established without a doubt that Troublemaker is primarily Leah’s journey into and out of Scientology, and what she learned about it along the way. If it’s for the Scientology that you picked up her book, you’ll be cheering by the end of this really strongly written opening salvo. In it, she estimates that she spent about $2 million just for Scientology courses, and donated another $3 million. And she places the blame for the “unraveling” of her faith in Scientology on two people: Leader David Miscavige and actor Tom Cruise.
Chapter 1. We hear it all the time: What is it about Scientology that appeals to people when they first get involved? We thought Alex Gibney and Lawrence Wright did a good job addressing that question in Going Clear with testimony from Jason Beghe and Spanky Taylor in particular. But still, some critics felt that they hadn’t done enough to explain why someone would join something as outlandish as Scientology. Leah Remini does a better job than most explaining the appeal of Scientology. At the time she first encountered it, she was just a child living in Brooklyn, and her mother Vicki had become involved in Scientology through her boyfriend at the time. Leah recreates a scene, learning about some of Scientology’s basic concepts from her mother, and how eye-opening they were because they seemed like ways of being treated like more of an adult. (Scientologists believe that even small children are really ancient beings in tiny packages, and often treat them like adults.) For Leah, who was going through typical childhood struggles at the time, this felt like a revelation. And with the early “training routines” focusing on toughening a person in order to withstand criticism and gain confidence, that also appealed greatly to a young girl who was naturally very self-conscious about how others perceived her. Leah does an excellent job making you understand how becoming a part of a group that later turned out to be so toxic could, in the beginning, feel like it was opening up new possibilities for her.
Chapter 2. When she was only 12 years old, Leah signed the billion-year contract of the Sea Organization and then moved to Clearwater, Florida with her sister Nicole, who was also joining the Sea Org, and her mother Vicki, who didn’t qualify for the Sea Org because she’d dropped acid at some point in her past. While working in the Sea Org at “Flag,” the Scientology spiritual headquarters in Clearwater, Leah learns the limitations of exerting her desire to be treated as an adult. When she tried to give some of the workers assigned to her the afternoon off after a productive morning, she found herself taken out to the bay in a boat and tossed overboard in the Sea Org tradition. It was quickly dawning on her that the Sea Org not only wasn’t the glamorous experience she hoped it might be, but that it was brutal and unforgiving. When she visits her baby half-sister, Shannon, she finds a disturbing nursery scene that will remind you of the horrific conditions that drove Spanky Taylor to rescue her daughter, Vanessa, in a key moment from the film Going Clear. But here is the difference we couldn’t help noticing: Spanky saw those conditions and ran away (after some waffling). Leah, even after leaving the Sea Org because of its bizarre and harsh treatment of children, stayed in Scientology for another 30 years despite what she’d seen. We would have liked to see her wrestle with that a bit more.
Chapter 3. Naturally, Leah’s account about her “petting” incident in the Sea Org which she mentioned during the 20/20 interview is getting a lot of attention. Leah admitted to letting a boy touch her breasts over her clothes, and it put at risk her dreams of moving into the even more hardcore Sea Org group, the Commodores Messengers Organization, which served L. Ron Hubbard more directly. Yes, Scientology’s ideas about sex can be pretty ridiculous, but we hope what people focus on more in this chapter is that what ultimately forced Vicki to pull her daughters out of the Sea Org was that they were facing its notorious prison detail, the Rehabilitation Project Force. Leah describes the deprivations of the RPF, which included wearing heavy black clothes, running everywhere, scrounging for table scraps, and never speaking to other people unless spoken to. It’s chilling to think that such a prison environment exists in the US today, run by a non-profit “church” that benefits from tax-exempt status bestowed on it by the US government. And we hope readers are curious to learn about how some Sea Org members, like Laura DeCrescenzo, spent years stuck in the RPF. Chuck Beatty spent seven years in the prison detail, and while we were in Australia recently we met a man who spent twelve years as a prisoner of the RPF.
Chapter 4. After ditching the Sea Org, the Remini girls, with their mother Vicki, headed for Los Angeles. And we learn another key idea about what it’s like to grow up in Scientology. On the one hand, when you’re struggling to make ends meet, the pressure to stay on course down at the local Scientology “org” and pay for more courses can be ferocious and a real burden. On the other hand, Leah and Nicole and Vicki were also able to plug into the network of Scientologists who ran businesses catering to other Scientologists. Leah describes how, after dropping out of school in the eighth grade, she got by with the help of Scientologists willing to give her simple jobs. This certainly rings true with what we’ve heard from many others, who tell us that one of the things that then makes it difficult to leave is giving up the business relationships you’ve developed over the years.
Chapter 5 & 6. It’s always interesting to read about how a successful person got that way, and here we learn about how Leah scratched and clawed her way into the acting profession. We know what you’re wondering — did Scientology, which advertises this notion, give her a leg up? Leah wants you to believe that Scientology really didn’t help her a lot in Hollywood, and if anything she played down her connection to the church whenever she was looking for jobs or then acting in a series. She did manage to first land an agent because a friend she knew in Scientology was dating Juliette Lewis’s brother, and she also admits that doing Scientology’s “Training Routines” — communication drills — might have helped her prepare for auditions. But in general, she credits hard work, her Brooklyn upbringing, and some good luck with landing her first roles.
Chapter 7. The tabloids will likely focus on Leah’s assertion that Jennifer Aniston was down to earth and very “real,” but for us the really interesting thing Leah discusses in this chapter is the nature of moving up Scientology’s “Bridge.” She talks about auditing and the e-meter (but relies on Scientology’s own definition of the machine, sadly), describes stopping people on the street to judge their emotional Tone Level (just like Tom Cruise did with Tommy Davis) and about how much pressure there was to spend hours each day progressing on your courses. Scientologists often struggle to describe Scientology to outsiders, and we wish Leah could have been a little more skillful here when she describes auditing at some length. Perhaps she’s still gaining some perspective on it herself. But then, the light goes on: it will later begin to dawn on her, after all the courses and auditing and training and pressure, what Scientologists end up becoming expert in is being Scientologists.
Chapter 8 & 9. Leah talks about going from someone who slept around a lot to finding the love of her life, Angelo Pagán, the man she calls the Cuban Frank Sinatra. (We’ve met Angelo and can say he’s every bit as genuine and charming as he comes off in It’s All Relative.) Only after she began sleeping with Angelo did Leah learn that he was married. She says that she reacted by getting him to take a course in Scientology and then also paid a large sum to get Angelo and his wife Scientology marriage counseling (which is very nutty, but Leah left that part out). But Angelo ultimately decided he wanted to be with Leah, and he broke up with his wife. Leah then goes into her years on King of Queens, and she talks about how the crew was a great big happy family.
Chapter 10. Leah introduces the notion of a “Knowledge Report” — a snitching report — and how much Scientology’s system of “ethics” can take over your life. In her case, she found herself answering to a young Sea Org ethics officer named Julian Swartz, who told her it was unbecoming for her to be involved with a man and not be married. So, on July 19, 2003, she and Angelo were married in Las Vegas. Before that, however, Angelo’s ex-wife talked to Star magazine about Leah and about the Scientology marriage counseling she went through, and Leah then had a brush with Scientology’s toxic “disconnection” policy. She says that an ethics officer told her that because of the Star article, she would need to disconnect from her own husband, or he would have to disconnect from his ex-wife and their children. She apparently ignored this suggestion. More importantly, she finds out that she’s pregnant, and her daughter Sofia becomes the major focus in her life.
Chapter 11. Through much of the book, and especially in this chapter, Leah tells us about her friend Sherry, whom she met when they were very young and were both working for Scientology. She doesn’t explain that this is Sherry Ollins, who we’ve written about a few times, and who showed up on an episode of It’s All Relative. Sherry’s brother is Stefan Castle, who was involved in one of the most dramatic stories of escape from Scientology and was profiled in Janet Reitman’s 2011 book, Inside Scientology. For Leah, Stefan’s problems with David Miscavige were a nuisance — at the time, she resented Sherry bringing her to meet with Stefan to hear about his problems with Scientology, and she dutifully reported the incident to her ethics handler, Master-at-Arms Julian Swartz. At that time, 2005, she still had high regard for Scientology leader David Miscavige and his wife, Shelly, whom Leah met for the first time that year. Despite what her friend Sherry was telling her about how David Miscavige had mistreated her brother, Leah wasn’t ready yet to hear such negative talk about Scientology.
Chapter 12, 13 & 14. As a Scientology celebrity, Leah was under constant pressure to give large sums in donations. After a $1 million donation, Leah says she got to spend time with Tom Cruise, and it was clearly a reward for her largesse. She soon became a member of his entourage, which is how she got invited to his house one evening so her husband, Angelo, could give Tom a salsa dancing lesson. This was when she first realized that Tom and Katie Holmes were an item, and she joked that they should “get a room” because they were all over each other. As she and Angelo attended more dinners at Tom’s house, she began to see how much Tommy Davis and Jessica Feshbach, Sea Org “handlers” for Tom and Katie, were always around. Because of their growing friendship, Leah and Angelo were invited to Tom and Katie’s wedding. We already covered much of the detail about the wedding in our story last week, as well as Leah’s subsequent punishment at the Flag Land Base in Clearwater for daring to speak up about the things she saw in Rome.
Chapter 15. BBC journalist John Sweeney will be interested to see what Leah has to say about him in the book. She admits now that she was appalled by the behavior of Tommy Davis and other church operatives who bad-mouthed Sweeney behind his back. She notes with some irony that Sweeney’s 2007 BBC film about Scientology aired right as King of Queens was finishing its nine-year run. Leah then went to The Talk, and we’re sure that her account of what led to her ouster from that program will stir up people who keep track of such things. It seems very juicy, but we just don’t have enough background in catty daytime TV fights to know how significant or new her account is.
Chapter 16, 17 & 18. When Katie Holmes ditched Tom Cruise in June 2012, Leah suddenly felt vindicated. Over the next few months, Leah went on the warpath with her handlers, as was described in the “Knowledge Reports” that we revealed last week. Leah wanted back the $300,000 she had spent in Flag following the Cruise wedding (which she eventually got back after meeting with David Miscavige), and she wanted Miscavige and Swartz to pay attention to the complaints she increasingly had about the direction Scientology was going in. She continues to ask about the whereabouts of Shelly Miscavige as she begins to read about Scientology on websites, and what she reads there horrifies her. By early 2013, her handlers are sufficiently concerned about her that they have her Scientology friends file Knowledge Reports about her. But then the rest of the world finds out about Leah’s disaffection courtesy of this website in July 2013. The sequence of events related in “Troublemaker” is a bit confused here, and it reminds us that Leah was dictating this book to a writer and editor at Ballantine who were trying to get things right (they’re thanked in the back). It’s too bad they didn’t check with us about that crucial period, July to August, 2013, so they could have avoided some errors. But the larger point is well made: Leah finally was on a collision course with the truth. Reading the infamous Debbie Cook email, reaching out to Mike Rinder, and reading her “SP websites,” Leah could no longer ignore what was really going on in Scientology.
Chapter 19. After leaving Scientology, Leah was able to count on Jason Beghe, Paul Haggis, and Jennifer Lopez as her Scientology friends began to scatter. She says she also drew inspiration from Nicole Kidman. But it’s her family that means the most to her, and she admits that people are surprised when she tells them she isn’t angry at her mother Vicki for bringing Scientology into their lives. Now that her family all came out of the experience together, they’re closer than ever.
It’s pretty obvious to us, meanwhile, that Leah Remini and her family frighten David Miscavige down to the soles of his shoes. Leah has suffered none of the harassment that Scientology has thrown at other former ex-members, even prominent ones. Leah has been left alone, unless you count the hilariously backfiring public statements Miscavige puts out under the name of his media mouthpiece, Karin Pouw.
And even though both Ballantine Books and ABC have both been no doubt buried under an avalanche of sternly-worded lawyer letters from Scientology in the last few weeks, the book will come out tomorrow, and Scientology will do nothing about it, just like it couldn’t stop ABC’s interview last week. (Though ABC has caved in the past.)
Leah Remini’s Troublemaker will put Scientology in the spotlight like nothing before. And Scientology never looks good when it’s flooded with revealing light.
We didn’t get a chance to include photos in our book, so we’ve posted them at a dedicated page. Reader Sookie put together a complete index and we’re hosting it here on the website. Copies of the paperback version of ‘The Unbreakable Miss Lovely’ are on sale at Amazon. The Kindle edition is also available, and shipping instantly.
Our book tour is concluded for now. We’ll let you know about future appearances. Previous events: Santa Barbara (5/16), Hollywood (5/17), Orange County (5/17), San Diego (5/20), San Francisco (5/22), New York (6/11), Chicago (6/20), Toronto (6/22), Clearwater (6/28), Washington DC (7/12), Hartford (7/14), Denver (7/17), Dallas (7/20), Houston (7/22), San Antonio (7/24), Austin (7/25), Paris (7/29), London (8/4), Boston (8/24), Phoenix (9/15), Cleveland (9/23), Minneapolis (9/24), Portland (9/27), Seattle (9/28), Vancouver BC (9/29), Sydney (10/23), Melbourne (10/25), Adelaide (10/28), Perth (10/30)
Posted by Tony Ortega on November 2, 2015 at 07:00
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Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…
BLOGGING DIANETICS: We read Scientology’s founding text cover to cover with the help of LA attorney and former church member Vance Woodward
UP THE BRIDGE: Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists
GETTING OUR ETHICS IN: Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice
SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING: Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts
PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | Scientology’s Private Dancer
The mystery of the richest Scientologist and his wayward sons | Scientology’s shocking mistreatment of the mentally ill
The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ
Our Guide to Alex Gibney’s film ‘Going Clear,’ and our pages about its principal figures…
Jason Beghe | Tom DeVocht | Sara Goldberg | Paul Haggis | Mark “Marty” Rathbun | Mike Rinder | Spanky Taylor | Hana Whitfield